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Once the paint fades, and the ribbons are off the lapel… What has changed?

 

Author: Letitia Cross, RAMHP Coordinator

Have you noticed lately that people throw around words like mental health, domestic violence or suicide awareness without actually talking about any of the issues in depth?

In recent years there seems to have been a proliferation of so-called ‘awareness activities’. I mean you can do 20 push-ups, choose to paint something blue to represent suicide awareness or dump a bucket of ice on your head without actually talking about the underlying issue. You can use terms like mental health, domestic violence, resilience or suicide awareness without discussing or changing the stigma, behaviour or culture that supports the problem.

Now don’t get me wrong, I applaud the awareness activities which are sparked by a well-intentioned communities’ grief or concerns and are supported by information delivery and increasing knowledge of people to start conversations on the issue!

However, all too often I see the opposite, and I believe somewhere along the way we have forgotten that words without action provide no benefit or change. We have the ability to use the words without actually discussing or empowering people around the issue. I am concerned that ‘awareness’ activities used every day without genuine conversations or education are breeding an air of complacency.

It is easy to feel good about ourselves in the moment when we wear a ribbon, use some paint or do a push-up… it costs us nothing and makes us feel good. But in order to create real change we need to do more than just be aware, we need to be brave enough to have open conversations around the tough and uncomfortable issues. We need to be passionate about change, while seeking the support and guidance of organisations or professionals so that we undertake safe and informed conversations. We need to educate ourselves, building our own and the wider communities’ knowledge about the issues of how to encourage someone to seek help and the types of help available. We need to provide the open and accepting environment that supports our family, friends and community members when they reach out.

I work in mental health, providing education, increasing awareness and connecting people to help.  Here is what I know, in the hundreds of people I linked to help last year, not one person said I saw a ribbon or a challenge so I thought it was okay to reach out. Almost every time someone reaches out for help it is because one person had the courage to start a conversation, to let them know that it is okay to not be okay, that there is help if and when you need it.

That is what changes culture, that is what breaks stigma, that is what creates change. Open discussions, informed by an increase in knowledge of the underlying issue. And the only way to do that, is to have the courage to take a moment, start a conversation and change a life. If we are brave, if we are tough enough to have this courage then once the paint fades and the ribbon comes off the lapel there can be lasting community change.

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